Who we are and why we do research
The Conservation Services Division comprises a number of units including Scientific Services which conducts the bulk of SANParks' research and monitoring in the biophysical and social sciences across the parks. The knowledge generated by scientists and supporting staff within the division and in collaboration with external associates informs park management and promotes the conservation of biodiversity, landscapes and associated heritage assets across SANParks' network of protected areas.
In the beginning...
Historically the majority of research in SANParks was conducted in Kruger National Park, where formal scientific research was initiated in the 1950s. During this period the first official research unit was established in Skukuza. Initial studies consisted of checklists of animals and plants and focussed on the use of fire and the provision of water for wildlife. During the 1960s, game capture studies and animal surveys were introduced. Over the years understanding of river systems, vegetation and wildlife population dynamics grew, with a slow but steady increase in focus on social issues.
Over the years the number and size of national parks increased progressively to include representative examples of South Africa's wide diversity of biomes and ecosystems. The inclusion of particularly marine, estuarine, forest and fynbos systems brought challenges very different to those of the savanna systems of Kruger National Park. The expanded national park system also increased the diversity of neighbouring communities as well as the complexity of socio-economic conditions facing the parks. This required a considerable expansion of the number and the range of disciplines of SANParks' biophysical and social scientists, as well as their geographic location.
Where are we now...
As an approach to address diverse research needs across the wide geographic spread of national parks, Scientific Services evolved into the following three principle research nodes:
- Cape Research Centre (with one office in Cape Town),
- Garden Route (with three offices: Rondevlei, the Saasveld Campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Knysna), and
- Savanna & Arid Research Unit (with three primary offices: Skukuza, Phalaborwa and Kimberley, and a number of small park-based satellite offices: Marakele, Kalahari Gemsbok, Addo, Shingwedzi (KNP)).
Each node oversees the research and monitoring conducted in its complement of parks, working closely with the park managers to guide management strategies and actions.
Scientific Services research centres associated with each of the national parks.